Unfortunately, marketing agency owners sometimes have to pull the plug on its partnership relationships. Maybe it’s a troublesome vendor… a hard-to-please client… or an undependable employee.
It’s a hassle. Would be nice to avoid it but typically, should’ve been done sooner.
When it comes to partnerships with a web development outsource, we’re pointing out some of the red flags to look for today. So you don’t get too far down the wrong path, too fast.
Then you can pursue the benefit of outsourcing with a dependable partner that takes an unwieldy fixed staffing cost and turns it into a variable, transparent pass-along cost that optimizes adjusted gross income.
Pull the plug* is an idiom*. One of those figures of speech that combines unlikely words to emphasize a point. Idioms are different from language to language. But some additional English standards are:
Kick the bucket. Spill the beans. Raining cats and dogs.
Even though idioms are quirky phrases, the meanings are very obvious.
And pull the plug (put an abrupt end to it) is well known among agency owners.
We’ve talked in the past about two essentials in any relationship: 1) Communication and 2) Expectations. So we’ll break down the following “web-dev partnership warning signs” into those two categories, although there’s plenty of cross-over between them.
Pull the plug right away if the outsourcing partner asks very few questions, suggests minimal communications or recommends no definitive assurance of quality.
Of course, an agency owner has people to manage these phases of communication. But check out this list anyway because the owner is the one who needs to see that it’s all accounted for from the get-go.
- Lower the curtain if the outsource partner doesn’t suggest initial phone call meetings… in-depth discovery-session meetings after those… and follow-up Q&A back-and-forths based on the discovery sessions (note how multiple rounds of each is assumed here). There’s a lot to a complex web development project. It’s an art, not a science. To get the scope of work correct and produce an accurate contractual agreement, those initial meetings are essential.
- Call it a day if the web-development partner doesn’t recommend regular, weekly touch-base meetings once the project is underway. “Weekly” is a general guideline. Maybe semi-weekly or biweekly is appropriate instead. The key word is “regular”.
- There are often perfectly normal challenges with development. For example, a piece of off-the-shelf code might not work as was hoped. Custom code has to be developed and that takes time. Or, maybe incorrect data was supplied. Tab A has to go into Slot A on a product configurator, but someone mislabeled the Tabs and the Slots. Of course, that’s a highly simplified example, but what’s not so simple is that it takes time to find data errors and fix them.
- An agency doesn’t want to wait three weeks for a deliverable only to find out it’ll be even longer after that already extended timeframe. The issue is not that more time is required. That’s fine. It’s that it was a surprise after a substantial period of silence. At a weekly meeting, issues regarding timing are communicated regularly and surprises are thus avoided.
- Turn out the lights if milestones aren’t communicated from the start. Such as, when will initial design proofs be provided (e.g. a sample home page plus a couple drop-down pages)? And then when will multiple design pages be available after that? At what point will HTML begin… when will designs be moved into a browser… when will a content management system be incorporated… when will actual URLs become available for review? Insist on milestones.
- The party’s over if Quality Assurance isn’t well-defined and scheduled well in advance of the launch date. QA Specialists need to go through the entire site, click on everything and consider every page as if they’re experiencing the full user story that is intended. They log in, fill out forms, see if reply emails are firing, check if firewalls are blocking responses. They check and sort data. In finish, they may find that possibly thousands of data results are possible versus the hundreds originally anticipated. If additional filters have to be added, they’re the ones who need to review the site and find out.
- Again, the agency owner isn’t going to babysit all these items but needs to know what they are and why they’re essential… and that they’re accounted for from the onset.
One may notice that the preceding category in this article, Communications, actually addresses and sets Expectations, which is this category. And that’s true. The two disciplines go hand in hand. So here’s a little deeper dive into Expectations… and the warning signs to keep in sight.
- Cue the organ music if the web-dev partner doesn’t acknowledge that stuff happens. Let’s face it, there are inherent unknowns… from pan-continental workflow management to nasty, lingering pan-demics.
- A) First, there are people. That is, people get sick. People change jobs. But people do awesome things and solve major issues, but they need time. And because all of us are human, we’re optimistic by nature. We plan to succeed. And we all know that is much better than planning to fail. But, stuff does happen. So you want a partnership where reality is anticipated.
- And B) there’s complexity. There’s no way anyone, even the most veteran, can anticipate all the issues that could arise in a complicated website project. Fifty pages have turned into 85. All of the images that were promised as good-to-go are the wrong size, the wrong resolution, the wrong ratio. The sitemap was created from a 30,000-foot view but now we’re down in the day-to-day weeds of development.
- It has to be created. It has to be a work of art.
- So, look for a partner that can keep it real. Keep it honest. And when in doubt, item 1 above, Communication, will help assure item 2 right here, Expectations.
- And finally, adios amigo if the web-dev partner doesn’t have the whole “pan-continental” thing (mentioned above) under control. The overseas team has to communicate with the U.S. team. The U.S. Team updates the agency. The agency updates the client. And the client has feedback which then recirculates that same loop in reverse. And remember that this, and subsets of this, will happen daily, multiple times.
- A dependable outsource partner may have up to 70 different people on board. And all of them need to be coordinated collectively, through job boards, tracking, project management. In this world of technology, it would not be unusual for a partner with this caliber of service-offering to have its own job-management system it has developed, customized to how it works.
- It’s something to look for. But no matter what software and systems are in place, the partner should be able to quickly describe it to the agency and so together they can get comfortable with how the job will be managed.
- (In an upcoming article, we’ll talk more about how agencies, partners or clients can develop their very own digitally powered intellectual property to assist with everything from project management to customer tools to community platforms).
Hopefully, everyone finds the right partners for the right business needs and none of us have to beat the heck out of tired old cliches such as if only things had been different… and woulda, coulda, shoulda… and if I had a nickel. Great outsourcing partnerships that are based on realistic communication and expectations will maximize opportunity and minimize the fixed costs that can just kill AGI.
For the whole story about how to find and then retain an invaluable outsourcing partner, check out this 3-part series: Choosing the Right Partner… How Many Partners Are Optimal?… and this article, When to Pull the Plug.
- *Pull the plug is commonly thought to be related to medical life-support equipment.
- However, the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms states that pull the plug relates to plumbing instead. Like one of those old-timey toilets with the water tank up above and a pull-the-plug-chain down below.
- The kind of plumbing fixture in the movie The Godfather (50-yr anniv. 2022) where they hide the gun Michael Corleone would use to avenge an attack on his father.
- The now-armed Corleone walks out of the bathroom to pull the plug on his victims, Solozzo and McCluskey. A hospital visit would not help them. They’d no longer need to use the lav. Whether plumbing or life support, either inspiration for the idiom applied to them.